Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash: Roots & Branches

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The full title (or at least, the full text on the cover) is "Artists, Songs & Recordings That Inspired the Legend of Johnny Cash: Roots & Branches," and while there are no performances by Cash himself on the album, there are plenty of tracks that will evoke him for listeners, as compiler/annotator Rich Kienzle finds the original versions of songs Cash recorded and even a couple of Cash compositions that were recorded by his Sun Records contemporaries. Perhaps the most striking selection is the one that may seem the most unlikely inclusion based on the artist who wrote and performed it, "Crescent City Blues," by bandleader Gordon Jenkins. A listen to the song, however, as Beverly Mahr sings the lyrics, will confirm to the amazement of many Cash fans that Jenkins wrote not only the melody, but some of the words to what became Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." (When Jenkins belatedly found out that Cash had appropriated his song, Cash was forced to share royalties and credit.) Cash fans will also find revelatory versions of "Ring of Fire" (Anita Carter), "Jackson" (the Kingston Trio), and "Cocaine Blues" (Roy Hogsed) that preceded Cash's more famous cover recordings. And then there are the Cash originals, "Rock & Roll Ruby," performed by Warren Smith, and "You're My Baby," by Roy Orbison, that help seal Cash's place in the Sun Records pantheon as both a writer and a recording artist. These obscurities are the gems on the album, which also includes more familiar material, such as Kris Kristofferson's original recording of "Sunday Morning Comin' Down" and Tim Hardin's of "If I Were a Carpenter," as well as tracks by artists who influenced Cash, such as Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers. Most Cash fans will gain greater insight into their hero by listening to this fascinating disc.

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